According to our Programme, today is a ministry day – any plans though in Arab culture are never more than a suggestion. Bashira is an Arab Christian studying at the college and the plan is for us to go with him on a prayer walk around some nearby Muslim villages talking to people and giving out Christian literature. I am not too sure about this, and as Bishara can only take seven of us in his minibus, Jim and I are thinking of ducking out to avoid May having to organise another car. However, it appears that another member of our party has the same idea, so I decide I will go after all leaving Jim behind as he is very tired.
We drive to Yaffa which we are assured is a village but it appears to be just a suburb of Nazareth to us. Bishara has actually just been appointed as the pastor of Yaffa Baptist Church and this is where we go. Steve, another Arab Christian, opens up for us and shows us around. Bishara shares a little of his story with us, of his journey to faith and some of the amazing, inspiring and miraculous things have happened to him. He used to be a grocer but is now supported financially, and works full time in ministry. He has a passion for evangelism and social action, is very dynamic and has loads of vision and ideas for Yaffa Baptist Church. Steve who has been in the church for about 25 years and is very quietly spoken looks somewhat stunned.
After a time of prayer we are given bags of snazzy Christian leaflets and DVDs and off we go for a walkabout. We all have various encounters with shopkeepers and people on the street. The men talk only to men and the women only with the women. Everyone is very polite, some are vaguely interested and bags are given away. We stop at one house where various people have gathered and a lady comes out to greet us. It turns out that her mother has just died. She gives us all a date and a little very strong bitter coffee. This is another fascinating aspect of Arab culture. The bereaved open their homes and people drop by to offer their condolences and are given sweets or dates and coffee. She is clearly grieving but is delighted by our visit and I and the other women in the group hug her when we leave. It is a privilege to have shared with her.
The group start to talk to some school children. They are typical teenagers but there is one girl who is clearly interested and she wants to talk. In fact she asks to see some of the group with the Pastor on Saturday as she wants to talk further. I on the other hand have been collared by a rather seedy old man who sings ‘You are my long-haired lover from Liverpool’ à la Jimmy Osmond to me. He has lived in England and tells me of all the places he has lived and something of what he got up to, most of which is unrepeatable. He then invites me up to his place to see his ‘artwork’?! Bishara feels that our encounters have been answers to our prayers. I don’t see mine in quite the same light.
Our next stop is Nazareth Hospital founded 150 years ago by an amazing Armenian doctor, who studied medicine in Edinburgh and married a Scottish girl, with the Edinburgh Medical Mission. We meet Christine who shows us around and, given the level of detail we receive, is clearly fascinated by the long history. She works for Interserve and we sit in a wonderfully cool office drinking ice cold drinks as she explains all about the volunteer program. After this we walk to the Nazareth Village which is next door to the hospital. We must look pretty funny as we troop down the hill as we receive hoots and waves and shouted hellos from the passing cars. Nazareth Village is a mock-up of Nazareth in Jesus’ day. The land is owned by the hospital and it is run by Arab Christians.
A lovely young Arab Christian called Mafh shows us round. There are farmers and donkeys ploughing a field, chickens, vines, olive trees, a winepress, a watchtower, a working olive press, a carpenters workshop, a weavers house and a synagogue. All very fascinating and informative. There is also a very nice gift shop. I manage to resist wonderful bags made from the woven wool, interesting jewellery and colourful scarves. I do fancy some Lily of the Valley Holy Land perfume though. But it is 42 shekels (about £8) and there is only one left and it is only about two thirds full having obviously been used as a tester. I take it to the man behind the counter. His name is Ibrahim and I know him from the Baptist Church where we worshipped last Sunday. As there are no others left he says I can have it for 15 shekels … result! We have burgers for supper tonight instead of chicken … another result!